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LITERARY    LIFE                        247

appropriately learn the ABCs from Norma Shearer or Ruth
Ghatterton. When he holds a whip and pretends to be riding
on horseback or when he plays at paddling a boat, his acting
is neither better nor worse than that of my five-year-old
daughter who plays at horse-riding by trailing a bamboo stick
between her thighs.

If we study the construction of the Yiian and subsequent
dramas, we shall find that the plot, as with Western operas,
is often of the flimsiest character, the dialogue unimportant,
while the songs occupy the centre of the play. In actual
performances, very often popular selections from the operas,
rather than the entire plays, are given, in the same manner
that operatic selections are rendered in Western musical
conceits. The audience knows the stories by heart, and the
characters are recognized by their conventional masks and
costumes rather than by the contents of the dialogue. The
first Yiian dramas, as we see them in extant works of the masters,
consisted, with a few exceptions, of four acts. The songs in
each act were sung to a definite set of tunes in a well-known
musical suite. The dialogues were unimportant, and in many
existing copies they are left out, which is probably because the
dialogue part was largely spoken extempore.

In the so-called "northern dramas" the songs in each act
were sung by the same person, although many actors took
part in the acting and the spoken dialogue (a limitation
probably due to the scarcity of singing talent). In the "southern
dramas" the limitations of dramatic technique were much less
rigid; there was a great deal more freedom, and from these
dramas were evolved the longer plays which in the Ming
Dynasty were known as cKuanchi. The number of acts (corres-
ponding in length to the "scenes" in English plays) was no
longer limited to four, different rhymes could be used in
songs of the same act, several singers could sing in alternation
or in unison in the same act, and the tunes themselves were
different from those used in the northern dramas, being of the
type which gives long modulations over single syllables.

Of such dramas, the Western Chamber (Hsihsiang) and Autumn
in the Han Palace (HankungcKiu, portraying the story of the
exiled imperial concubine Ghao Ghiin), may be taken as